When this question Could skipping the 18-55mm kit lens with Rebel T3i be a foolish move, to replace it with a 50mm f/1.8? was merged into this one Should I buy a camera with kit lens, or body plus lens separately? The answers from the later, more specific, question were migrated. But there is now no way to view the more specific Question and those more specific Answers that were written to address it in the same place. The more specific answers written for the more specific question are no longer visible at the location of the more specific question they addressed. Only the answers, but not the question, are visible at the question those answers have been migrated to. And there is absolutely no indication that the migrated answers were written to address a different, more specific form of the question. How does this make sense?

In my opinion the older, less specific, original question is so general as to be useless. The correct answer is dependent upon way too many variables (Experience level of the buyer. What, if any, existing equipment the buyer owns. What kind of photography the buyer intends to do. What specific lenses are available at what price point for a given lens mount. Etc.). While the desire to sometimes make questions as applicable to as many situations as possible is admirable, there are times when the correct answer to a question will change significantly with a change in any one (or more) of the variables. Isn't that what "...If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question..." means?

For example, the other day a question was asked by a person who owns an older Canon camera and a single 18-200 lens: What would be the best upgrade strategy for improving low light performance on a very limited budget? Had the old camera been a Nikon, Sony, or Pentax the best upgrade path would probably be a new APS-C body. But since Canon hasn't improved the low light performance of their APS-C sensors to any real degree for several years, in that specific case the best answer was probably a faster lens or a used FF body.

I understand the desire for questions to be "timeless", but the reality is that as new products are introduced and enter the marketplace at higher and/or lower price points it changes the landscape enough to alter the best answer to many questions. What would be the best budget-conscious course of action today would change if tomorrow Canon introduced a long overdue 70D or 7D Mark II that used a next generation APS-C sensor with low light performance improvements along the same lines that Nikon and others have shown in the last 3-4 years.

Yet the way a handful of members seem to want to run the site, it often makes it difficult to find the best, current information to a specific question. And newcomers who ask questions are either berated for them being too general or being too specific.

  • Any question that remotely resembles another is flagged as a duplicate and in some cases closed in such a short period of time that most of the community, many of whom might feel the question has merit as a unique one, may not even see it. (We are spread throughout the entire globe in different time zones). When newcomers try to follow the instructions "... If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question..." the new, more specific question is promptly flagged as a duplicate because it is a more focused, specific form of an existing general question. Even when the specifics of the new question significantly alter what the correct answer might be.
  • New answers to questions asked several years ago might well be more current and more accurate than the original answers if the available options have changed. Yet the default display of the accepted answer followed by the most popular answers in descending order means that answers that received a mass of votes 2-3 years ago (when they were the best answers) means that a more current, more correct answer is buried in obscurity beneath them. Because very few viewers will scroll that far down, if there are more than 4 or 5 old answers the more current answer is rarely even seen and thus has little chance of getting the votes needed to move it closer to the top.
  • At times it seems as if opinions on whether a question should be left open, closed, or merged into another question hinges as much on how much the decision might affect a user's reputation as it does on the merits of the question. If the user wrote the top answer to an older question, they seem to want to close the newer one more often than if they wrote an answer to the newer question that is getting some votes and have no skin in the game at the older question, even when the comparison between the two questions in either case is quite similar.

Just because questions may be similar about what they are asking doesn't always mean they are identical to each other and exact duplicates. Subtle differences in the question can sometimes lead to significantly different answers. The topic of being a little too quick to mark seemingly every new question as a duplicate of another related but not necessarily identical question came up here a while back, and we seemed to slow down on flagging every other question as a duplicate for a while. Now we seem to be right back where we were before. Is it any wonder most newcomers don't stick around very long when this is the case?

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  • It might be worth submitting the idea on Meta.SO that the answers associated with the more specific version should stay on the tombstone as well. I think that would be a very useful feature even if it was just an optional thing that moderators could do when merging. If you do post something, let me know and I'll be sure to upvote it. – AJ Henderson Jun 18 '13 at 15:53

Because they are both ***SHOPPING*** questions, and they ARE DIRECTLY RELATED. First and foremost, shopping questions really aren't a good fit to start with. On most SE sites, they are banned completely. Generally speaking, very GENERAL questions are what StackExchange AT LARGE actually WANTS. We don't really want ultra specific...that means the question is too narrow, and therefor not useful to as many people for as long a period of time.

When it comes to PhotoSE, shopping questions are, whether we like it or not, our greatest source of traffic. We still strive to keep open shopping questions to a minimum, however, and we do explicitly try to keep shopping questions fairly general, rather than specific, so they are relevant to the most users for the greatest amount of time. This is, by the way, NOT a "handful" of users...it is the general M.O. of StackExchange!

In the two specific cases you linked, the newer question that was closed and merged was a very specific shopping question about very specific pieces of gear. That question is likely to be viable to a relatively very small portion of the users and viewers of this site. At the very least, it should have been closed, and the other question referenced.

In regards to the merge...I am not sure if I would have merged or not. Your answer was fairly specific, and does not quite fit the more general master question all that well. I might have closed it (although necessarily a single day after the question was asked...more on this in a moment), but I am not sure I would have merged it. A closed question with good answers can still be useful, even if it is largely or even entirely off topic for the site (as "specific" shopping questions usually are.)

When it comes to general photography questions that do not involve shopping, I personally am usually quite reluctant to merge them. As you have stated, subtle differences can mean that two similar questions are different enough to warrant separate topics. I usually try to keep things that way, but I would like to point out the unique nature of shopping questions vs. all other questions: According to StackExchange's general guidelines, shopping questions should be off topic. They leave that decision up to each community, however this community, in its early years, came to the conclusion that while we are open to allowing generalized shopping questions, specific ones that ask about very specific gear should be off topic.

My M.O. as a moderator is to let the community decide. I try not to address a flag for at least some time, as I know my votes and actions are binding. I try to give the community time to have their say. I will often take immediate action on spam, hostility, and comment spamming. I will also often take immediate action on site migrations, when a question is clearly off topic here but on topic on another site. I explicitly try not to take close action on a topic for at least a day, usually a couple of days, so that the community can have their say. When it comes to mergers, I will often respond to the advice of community members, particularly those I know well, who have been here since the beginning like myself, and know how this site should be run (which, I'd like to note, was derived via a process of community consensus both here on meta as well as in our chat room.) I will usually give mergers more simmer time, not the least of which is because a merger cannot be undone. It is not uncommon for a question to be closed, either by community vote consensus or by a moderator, and then be merged weeks, months, or even years after that fact. Mergers most often happen on...yes, you guessed it...shopping questions!

I would also like to point out that there is no reason someone, such as yourself, couldn't improve the question of the master question other questions are merged into, in order to make it "not suck". This IS a community-managed site. I don't disagree that the wording of the question your answer was merged into is fairly poor. I think it's general nature is good, but it could be made a bit meatier, just for aesthetic appeal if nothing else.

Next up, we do have a newer moderator. He has only been at the job for a couple of months. He won't get everything right every time, and he will probably take certain actions on things that might be controversial. I ask that you give him some time to figure things out. I have not had much time to visit and respond to flags lately, so other mods have had to pick up my slack. I've been trying to get back here more often, and I'll try to address more flags. I'll also advise our newest mods wherever I can.

On that note, my first recommendation is to dial back the moderator actions on flags...we don't need to take action immediately on all flags. Personally, I think it best to let flags simmer for a bit, with the one exception being where the appropriate action is 100% clear. There are a few cases where that is the case...open hostility/rudeness is one. I do not believe anyone in this community has to sit and deal with any kind of personal attack, regardless of degree, at any time. Rudeness and hostility will not be tolerated, and swift action should and will always be taken, often simply as a delete of said comments or answers. Site migrations are also usually very clear, and when a question is identified for site migration, assuming the flag is correct, the action should be taken immediately.

Any other flags, in my opinion, should simmer. Here are a few examples:

  • I like to give the community some time after a flag is thrown to make their own decision.
  • When there is active community discussion occurring in a question that has flags, I think moderator action on those questions or answers should be withheld until the community works out its own solution.
  • One exception to this rule would be when the community deliberations get clearly out of hand, in which case that is a clear sign a moderator should step in and take action.
  • Other exceptions do exist, and there will be times when a moderator sees a question that has no merit here on our forum, and should just be closed. I wouldn't say such a thing occurs frequently here (by no means as frequently as other SE sites), but it is not exceptionally rare either.

Finally, core members and moderators are here to keep the site clean and functional. It is our community-elected JOB to address flags, and take action when action is appropriate. Fundamentally, PhotoSE is a well-oiled machine...we are one of the smoothest operating sites on StackExchange with one of the highest answer rates. That has been true since we came out of beta a couple years ago. We have a faster growing membership these days, a greater frequency of spammers and the like, as well as a significantly greater influx of shoppers. As our community continues to grow, moderators will be taking action as they see the need. There may be times when we need to dial it back, and it is possible this is one of those times. As such, my recommendation to all the moderators here is that we let flags simmer for a bit before taking any binding actions on them according to the guidelines I've outlined above.

On the flip side...this site already came to a consensus regarding how it should operate, what kinds of questions are on- and off-topic, what kind of atmosphere we wish to promote here, and what kinds of behavior we find unacceptable. I do not believe there is any reason to revisit those decisions unless a majority of the community, particularly the core, established heart of the community (which, I'd like to point out, you are most definitely a part of, Michael!), decides that some of our original decisions need to be revisited. There may come a time when such a thing occurs, and if this site grows large enough at some point in the future, I'll instigate that process myself. Until such time, however, just remember:

Shopping questions are borderline on-topic, and only when they ARE general enough to be "timeless".

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    I don't have a whole lot to add to that... Hard not to agree. – John Cavan Jun 18 '13 at 0:19
  • Thank You for the thorough and detailed response. It does help to clarify a few things in my mind, however it also raises a few other questions. With a population of over 12,000 registered users I think it may be overstating the case a little to say "the community has spoken" when the same 8-10 users cast the vast majority of close votes. It seems to me the same is true to a lesser extent in terms of how we deal with, or even define, shopping questions. Those who were here in the beginning in some instances still contribute a lot to the community. Many others seem to have moved on... – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 4:26
  • ... And while the point can be well made that the vast majority of those 12,000+ users are not active here, perhaps part of that is because they are frustrated with the way the questions that are important to them have been handled. Unlike many of the other areas discussed in other communities on SE, photography is heavily gear dependent. What gear is best suited for for what task is critical in photography. Yes the most critical piece of "hardware" is the space behind the viewfinder (or the EVF, or LCD). But a big part of that function is to understand what can, and what can not, be... – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 4:33
  • ... accomplished with the hardware in front of you. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 4:36
  • The other primary concern your answer raises in my mind is this: If camera/lens comparison and selection questions are considered "shopping" questions, then the questions that precipitated this discussion have been appropriately dealt with under the current community guidelines. But there are a TON of other questions that are no less "shopping" questions that have been open for weeks, months, and even years without getting the same treatment. Perhaps even a majority of the questions on PhotographySE. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 4:41
  • As to editing questions several years old with many established answers, I think we all recognize the hazards involved there. Whether by intent or not it is all too easy to alter the question so that the existing answers seem to say something other than what they meant when the author wrote them. Even when that is not the case, I've seen other users who authored existing answers accuse the person who edited the question of trying to rewrite the question to suit the editor's own answer. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 5:07
  • First, of the 12,000+ members on this site, the very vast majority of them come here to ask a question, get an answer, and move on. Some of those return, ask more questions, and move on periodically. A very small percentage of those 12,000+ members are what StackExchange calls a "core" member...someone invested, someone dedicated, who is a regular visitor and regular contributor. Of the 12,000+ members who simply come to get an answer to their question, there is a considerable percentage who never even come back to see what answers were given...they just drop in then leave and that's it. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:13
  • The core membership is the community that needs to address the issues you bring up. Moderators can step in and take action when the appropriate action is clear, or take action when community debate has stalled but an outcome is clear, however the general idea is that we stand back and let the community do it's thing. There ARE lots of questions that should probably be closed, but again...it should be the community that decides. As a mod, it's better if we don't always take unilateral action unless there is a general community consensus for us to do so. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:15
  • As for editing questions...this IS a community managed site. The INTENT of StackExchange is that core members WILL be cleaning up site content. Every single question and answer here is explicitly editable by members with enough reputation. I am not sure I've seen a frequent occurrence of community editing that was explicitly intended to diminish the value of one answer in order to benefit the value of another answer by that other answers author...if that is occurring on a regular basis, then the community has failed in bringing such things to the attention of moderators. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:17
  • I do not believe such a thing is a problem, though...I haven't seen enough evidence to support the notion. Editing is a part of life here, it's how StackExchange works. People who don't like that probably shouldn't be here, or should learn to work within the operational M.O. of StackExchange. If a question is poorly worded, it is our duty to properly interpret it's meaning and improve the quality of the question. That IS possible, by an unbiased individual, and improving the quality of the master question you linked to be more broadly relevant is something we SHOULD do. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:18
  • Finally, regarding shopping. We DO allow it. We allow it to a FAR greater degree than any other StackExchange site. I personally pushed hard to keep them semi-on-topic back when those debates were raging. They do have value in bringing in new membership, as search fodder, etc. However they are temporal in value...the more specific they are, the narrower their temporal value tends to be. We usually do answer them, however the general expectation should be that most shopping questions will be closed...and those that are more specific will usually be closed sooner. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:21
  • It should be our goal to have a core set of questions, with adequate answers, that broadly (although not too broadly nor too narrowly) cover the general set of "shopping" type questions we get asked. "Should I get a camera with kit, or get a better lens separately?" is one of those kinds of questions, and it would be best if we had an ideal "master" answer to which those particular kinds of shopping questions can be closed and directed to. To caveat...that does not necessarily mean we don't answer each shopping question...just that they should be closed and referenced (not merged) eventually. – jrista Jun 18 '13 at 15:23
  • I would add to this that I think the way at least I generally try to approach shopping questions is to identify what factors should matter to the person based on their goals and direct them at how to figure out what has those features they need. Helping see how to make the comparison keeps it more timeless and more generally helpful even if it might not be the "buy thingy A over thingy B" that they were hoping for. – AJ Henderson Jun 18 '13 at 15:57
  • I don't think editing a question to suit another answer happens very often, and didn't mean to imply that I thought it was a rampant problem. But I have been accused of it when simply editing spelling errors or simply filling out the entire name of a lens in questions I also answered, and I've seen others accused of it as well. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 23:42
  • I have no problem with closing questions such as those discussed here. Perhaps we could establish a specific time frame to allow answers to be written. Once a question is closed, the specific question and answer are still viewable in the same place, and the existing tags still show up in new searches. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 23:45

I think the nature of shopping questions has been covered quite well... That's a tough act to follow! However, since I've recently argued the "too quick to close duplicate" line of thought, I thought I would try to respond a little bit.

Hind sight is 20/20 and in using it I might have been better off waiting on merging that question, but to my mind, it's still a duplicate. I didn't vote that way immediately, because my vote is binding, so I waited to see increased consensus on it. I try to do that and, especially with flagged questions, I also try to wait to see if the community agrees with the flag (they usually do, but not always). I'm not perfect at that, admittedly, but while I am new to the role, I'm not new to the site and I try to make the call based on the history of the community around these things. Again, not a perfect record there either. Outside of the shopping question situation, though, I generally agree with your three bullet points, we're a little too aggressive on duplication closure.

At any rate, I support @jrista in his idea on flag "simmering" and will try to stick to that. I am, admittedly, a sucker for little numbered squares and circles urging me on (my iPhone almost never has those as a consequence), but I'll restrain myself, or try to.

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  • Thanks for the response. My question here may appear, at first glance, to be a strong criticism of your decision to merge the two questions that precipitated this discussion. That was not and is not my intent. Please don't feel that I am questioning your decision to merge these specific questions so much as I am questioning the reasoning by the community behind the idea that specific hardware comparison questions are by definition "shopping" questions. If shopping questions, so defined, are taboo on SE, perhaps Photography as a subject is not a good fit for SE. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 4:58
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    Specifically, my greatest frustration is that there is no way of indicating a merged answer was written in response to a more specific version of the more general question. This is true especially when the specifics of the more detailed question may alter the correct answer significantly. – Michael C Jun 18 '13 at 5:01
  • @MichaelClark - Don't worry, I didn't take offense or concern about the tone of the question. That is, after all, part of the purpose of the meta site: to discuss this very thing. The concerns on merging (and question age) are valid, so I'll try to keep that in mind before doing a merge in the future. As for shopping, well, I tend to dislike the obviously lazy ones, but ones like these don't fit that concept. I don't generally act to close any of them, though, unless there appears to be a general move to close. – John Cavan Jun 18 '13 at 10:26

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